Fears about Hurricane Florence spread south on Wednesday, with Georgia declaring a state of emergency after officials in the Carolinas urged people to evacuate the coast ahead of the storm's expected pounding winds and rain-driven floods. The storm was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and moving northwest at about 16 mph.
More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas ahead of the arrival of Florence, which boasts sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.
The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 63km/h would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm's centre reaching the coast Friday.
"This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding", the hurricane center says. "In light of the storm's forecasted southward track after making landfall, I encourage Georgians to be prepared for the inland effects of the storm as well as the ensuing storm surge in coastal areas".
Further, she said there will be in increased risk for isolated tornadoes, and the potential heavy rain and wind gusts from Florence could uproot trees and cause power outages.
Crews board up the Oceanic restaurant in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in preparation for Hurricane Florence.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned residents that time was running out to seek safety from what he called a "once in a lifetime" storm.
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Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds now extend up to 195 miles from the center of the storm.
Experts predict that the storm could bring rainfall up to 40 inches and up to 13 feet of floodwater in some areas.
With South Carolina's beach towns more in the bull's-eye because of the shifting forecast, OH vacationers Chris and Nicole Roland put off their departure from North Myrtle Beach to get the maximum amount of time on the sand.
Meteorologists are warning of potentially catastrophic flooding in the area, with isolated amounts of up to 40 inches of rain expected in parts of SC. Residents in some parts of the Carolinas have been ordered to evacuate.
The NHC said Helene was weakening, however, and posed no danger to land. "We are ready for the big one that is coming!"
The pivot in the forecasted track of Florence led Georgia's governor to declare a state of emergency for all 159 counties, home to 10.5 million people.
The impact of storm surge on the coast will depend on whether the storm's arrival coincides with high tide.
"But despite that, bad things can happen when you are talking about a storm this size", he added.